John keeps pressure on after 0845 campaign win

John Healey has vowed to keep up the pressure against the use of rip-off 084 numbers, after the government produced new guidance banning them.

The MP for Wentworth & Dearne has submitted Parliamentary Questions asking each government department when they will stop using 0844 and 0845 numbers, which cost callers up to 41p a minute.

He has campaigned against their use by GPs and government departments for two years.

On 26 December 2013, the Cabinet Office published new guidance on ‘customer service lines’ which said it was “inappropriate for callers to pay substantial charges for accessing core public services, particularly for vulnerable and low income groups.”

It added: “Where a non-geographic number is needed, departments should treat the use of the 03 prefix as a default position for the provision of key public services.”

Any departments not following the rules must explain their reasons to Cabinet Office ministers.

The new guidance follows reports by the National Audit Office (NAO) and Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that found 084 numbers cost the public £56m last year and both concluded the numbers should not be used.

Mr Healey’s investigations across government found nearly two thirds of phone lines were 0845, including for Disability Living Allowance, Carers Allowance, Victim Support, the Bereavement Service and Student Loans Company. His report, The Telephone Tax, published in May 2013, prompted the inquiries by the National Audit Office and PAC.

Mr Healey said: “Every day that passes the poorest people are being ripped off and forced to run up big phone bills because they are making essential calls to government services.

“I have tabled questions to every department asking for a deadline by which they will end the use of these lines.

“Government departments have been told again and again that what they are doing is wrong. They must stop the telephone tax and start playing fair.”